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Tip: Understanding Rank

PEP-Web Tip of the Day

When you do a search, you can sort the results bibliographically alphabetical or by “rank”. What is Rank?

Rank refers to the search engine’s “best guess” as to the relevance of the result to the search you specified. The exact method of ranking used varies a bit depending on the search. In its most basic level, when you specify a single search term, rank looks at the density of the matches for the word in the document, and how close to the beginning of the document they appear as a measure of importance to the paper’s topic. The documents with the most matches and where the term is deemed to have the most importance, have the highest “relevance” and are ranked first (presented first).

When you specify more than one term to appear anywhere in the article, the method is similar, but the search engine looks at how many of those terms appear, and how close together they appear, how close to the beginning of the document, and can even take into account the relative rarity of the search terms and their density in the retrieved file, where infrequent terms count more heavily than common terms.

To see a simple example of this, search for the words (not the phrase, so no quotes):

unconscious communications

Look at the density of matches in each document on the first page of the hits. Then go to the last page of matched documents, and observe the density of matches within the documents.

A more complex search illustrates this nicely with a single page and only 15 matches:

counter*tr* w/25 “liv* out” w/25 enact*

There are a lot of word forms and variants of the words (due to the * wildcards) above that can match, but the proximity (w/25) clause limits the potential for matching. What’s interesting here though is how easily you can see the match density decrease as you view down the short list.

The end result of selecting order by rank is that the search engine’s best “guess” as to which articles are more relevant appear higher on the list than less relevant articles.

For the complete list of tips, see PEP-Web Tips on the PEP-Web support page.

Freud, S. (1894). Letter 21 from Extracts from the Fliess Papers. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume I ( 1886-1899): Pre-Psycho-Analytic Publications and Unpublished Drafts, 199.

Freud, S. (1894). [SEA199a1]Letter 21 from Extracts from the Fliess Papers. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume I ( 1886-1899): Pre-Psycho-Analytic Publications and Unpublished Drafts, 199

[SEA199a1]Letter 21 from Extracts from the Fliess Papers Book Information Previous Up Next

Sigmund Freud

[SEA199a2]…I have only collected a few cases this Monday.

[SEA199a3]No. 3.

[SEA199a4]Dr. Z., a physician, aged 34. Has suffered for many years from organic sensitivity of the eyes: phospheum [flashes], dazzle, scotomas, etc. This has increased enormously, to the point of preventing him working, in the last four months (since the time of his marriage). Background: masturbation since the age of 14, apparently continued up to recent years. Marriage not consummated, much reduced potency; incidentally, divorce proceedings begun.

[SEA199a5]Clear typical case of hypochondria in a particular organ in a masturbator at periods of sexual excitation. It is interesting that medical education reaches such a shallow depth.

[SEA199a6]No. 4.

[SEA199a7]Herr D., nephew of Frau A, who died a hysteric. A highly neurotic family. Aged 28. Has suffered for some weeks from lassitude, intracranial pressure, shaky knees, reduced potency, premature ejaculation, the beginnings of perversion: very young girls excite him more than mature ones.

[SEA199a8]Alleges that his potency has been capricious from the first; admits masturbation, but not too prolonged; has a period of abstinence behind him now. Before that, anxiety states in the evening.


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